Social media is rife with disingenuous, bad faith bluster masquerading as legitimate discourse. Some honest attempts to contribute to the ongoing dialogue on Twitter or Instagram are cringe-worthy even when they aren’t intentionally crafted to spark outrage; other times, people are out there just to stir the pot, courting an entire community’s collective wrath. This latter type of post can take many forms, but all are cut from the same stained cloth. I’m talking, of course, about shitposting.
What does a viral Facebook video showing someone’s heinous Velveeta nacho monstrosity have in common with certain a right-wing politician’s invocations of George Orwell? Friends, they are both shitposts—offshoots of the same trollish and duplicitous family that comprise the lifeblood of social media outrage in 2021.
Shitposts are only amplified when a critical mass of users proves willing to take the bait; even outraged reactions only extend a shitpost’s reach and lifespan as it’s ricocheted around the internet with each subsequent retweet and share. However, there are ways to spot a shitpost and do your part to deprive them of the oxygen they need to thrive—and there are times when it’s more imperative that you do so.
First, what is a shitpost?
The concept of shitposting is so entrenched in today’s climate that even the old vanguards of the English lexicon (Dictionary.com) have added the term to their archives.
That website defines the term thusly, when used as a verb:
To post off-topic, false, or offensive contributions to an online forum with the intent to derail the discussion or provoke other participants:
On a basic level, you could accurately equate shitposting with trolling. Every shitpost, in some way, is an act of trolling. But there’s a distinction: Trolling, even when it’s quite depraved, is performed blatantly (i.e., the troll makes no attempt to hide the fact that they are trolling, even if their behavior is genuinely reprehensible). Shitposters, on the other hand, pretend to be unaware of their transparent attempts to deliberately churn the waters and piss people off. (As with any unwritten rule of social media etiquette, some caveats apply, but the trope of the unwitting shitposter bears out).
Consider the old tweets from various Texas Republicans made newly relevant this week by the rolling blackouts spreading throughout the state as it grapples with an unprecedented onslaught of snow and freezing temperatures. The resurfaced tweets—from Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Senators Ted Cruz and John Cronyn—were sent last summer, and directed at California officials as the Golden state dealt with its own wave of blackouts, then caused by stifling heat.
The tweets, part of a seemingly coordinated online effort to disparage California Democrats for perceived mismanagement of their electrical grid, were recalled today for what they were: disingenuous attempts to score political points by slinging mud on Twitter—aka, pure shitposting.
These tweets from Cruz and Crenshaw are high-profile, highly politicized examples, but shitposting is a rampant phenomenon that spreads far beyond the worlds of politics. Consider the TikTok recipe video that seems engineered only to provoke disgusted reactions, or the pop culture hot take that seems engineered to anger people rather than to elicit genuine conversation. But there are ways you can make sure the next viral shitpost wreaks a little less havoc.
Screenshot instead of retweet
There’s a weird psychological impulse to be involved with every fresh outrage the internet engineers, and to add one’s kindling to the dumpster fire. With Twitter, it’s especially easy, given the website’s quote-tweet function is seemingly built to accommodate an internet pile-on.
But quote-tweeting only furthers the reach of a shitpost, even if you’re attempting to skewer or mock the post you’re amplifying. To that end, if you must add yours to the deluge of takes that spreads across the web in a given day, consider taking a screenshot of the offending post instead. It’s a more benign way of perpetuating a shitpost’s relevance: Sure, other users can see the bad take, opinion, or insult, but they can’t dive directly into the replies, nor will they boost the bad post’s metrics directly if they decide to engage.
The same holds true on Instagram. Why recycle a bad post onto your own page if you feel it’s just going to keep its sentiment alive? If you feel you need to air your own reaction, a screenshot is far more likely to limit the spread of the original shitpost itself.
Decide not to get involved
It’s a novel and perhaps brave approach these days, but it’s possible to stay above the fray when it comes to the next shitpost that causes a stir: Just don’t engage. Enjoy the outrage, DM it to your friends privately if need be, but keep it off your own feeds. Some shitposts live on in infamy (like those aforementioned tweets from Cruz and Crenshaw), but if they don’t reappear to bite the poster in the ass, they’ll likely sputter and die. If you ignore them as soon as they appear, that will happen a lot more quickly, and the internet will be a marginally less terrible place.